Harrisburg, PA – January 23, 2018 – Senator Vincent Hughes spoke today in support of affordable higher education for Pennsylvanians. Standing with advocates and researches from the Association of State College & University Faculty, Keystone Research Center, and members of the House, Senator Hughes advocated for the creation of Pennsylvania Promise, a program that will make higher education accessible to every student in the state.

“Because of costs and lack of resources, a stunning 70 percent of Pennsylvania students graduate with debt.  This hobbles them into the future and holds our economy back,” Senator Hughes said. “Pennsylvania Promise will keep open doors for students and keep students in school.  It will help close the resources gap that has made obtaining a college degree such a huge hurdle for many low and middle-income students.”


A major investment in higher education cannot come soon enough.

  • Thirty-five years of state disinvestment have left Pennsylvania ranked worst in the nation when it comes to higher education, sunk in the rankings by students’ high debt at graduation and the state’s high tuition and fees, according to U.S. News and World Report. 
  • The state ranks 40th for the share of adults 25-64 with an education beyond high school. 
  • In over half of Pennsylvania counties (35), the share of adults with more than a high-school degree is lower than in any of the 50 states (i.e., lower than West Virginia’s 48.1%). 
  • A large body of economic research shows that lagging educational attainment translates to lower wages and incomes for individuals and slower economic growth for regions.
  • The Wall Street Journal has already labeled rural America the “new inner city,” the nation’s most troubled regions. Rural Pennsylvania has so far escaped the downward spiral of some parts of West Virginia and Kentucky. But if Pennsylvania’s rural counties remain higher education deserts, it would guarantee their accelerating decline over the next generation.

“Anyone who cares about Pennsylvania, particularly those parts of the state underserved by affordable, accessible higher education – most of the state outside the Philadelphia metro area and parts of the Pittsburgh metro area – should be leading the charge for Pennsylvania to enact the Pennsylvania Promise,” said Mark Price, Labor Economist for the Keystone Research Center.

The Keystone Research Center unveiled a report outlining the impact of attainable higher education; the “Pennsylvania Promise” program would: 

  • cover two years of tuition and fees for any recent high school graduate enrolled full-time at one of the Commonwealth’s 14 public community colleges; 
  • cover four years of tuition and fees for any recent high school graduate with a family income less than or equal to $110,000 per year accepted into one of the 14 universities in the State System of Higher Education;
  • provide four years of grants ranging from $2,000 up to $11,000, depending on family income, for students accepted into a state-related university;  
  • provide grants to adults without a college degree, with priority given to those seeking in-demand skills and industry-recognized credentials (such as apprenticeships), as well as college credit.

“The global race for raising incomes and increasing opportunity hinges critically on access to post-secondary education and training,” said Diana Polson, report co-author and Policy Analyst for the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center. “If Pennsylvania does not expand access to higher education to more of its citizens, the Commonwealth’s economy will suffer and living standards will lag behind growth elsewhere.”